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Center of Excellence, explained

The new Center of Excellence grant will not only continue to fund the college's pipeline programs such as the Summer
Predental Enrichment Program (with 2012 collegiate participants, above), it will also help advance diversity in dental faculty.

Media Resources/Steven Doll

The college’s $3.4 million grant will target a small number of students initially. As the program progresses, its impact is likely to be anything but small.

In some ways, the newly established Center of Excellence at the dental school isn’t a novel idea. After all, under the guidance of Dr. Ernestine Lacy, executive director of student development and multicultural affairs, the office’s longstanding pipeline programs have for years addressed issues like access to care and minority enrollment. And the idea of earning a master’s in education for health care professionals isn’t new.

But how the program addresses both issues — and tackles national concerns such as the growing dental faculty shortage — is enterprising, to say the least.

“The new part of it is, we’re targeting students earlier, so that they are earning their DDS degree and their master’s degree simultaneously,” says Lacy. “That’s the goal.”

So how will the program, funded by a five-year, $3.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers of Excellence program, achieve this objective? In return for a commitment to teach, a financial incentive will be offered to one selected dental student per year who is interested in academics.

Dr. Ernestine Lacy

Dr. Ernestine Lacy, executive director of student development
and multicultural affairs

Media Resources

“They are committing that they will teach part time at least one year for every year they are in the program,” Lacy says. That means by commencement, the student will be prepared for private practice and the classroom.

“Over the five-year project period for the grant, hopefully we will identify five students who can serve on faculty not only here but at other dental schools,” Lacy says.“Some may teach here, some may move on.”

While only one student may receive the financial incentive each year, the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in health professions education is open to all dental students.

Plus, the grant, titled “Bridge to Dentistry: Awareness to Practicing, Teaching and Research,” will allow the college to expand its existing pipeline programs in the following ways:

  • increasing research on issues relating to underserved populations;
  • providing opportunities for more students to engage in clinical experiences in areas with underserved populations; and
  • growing the college’s collection of literature related to underrepresented minority groups and health, socioeconomic and cultural issues.

It’s all in efforts to address access to care in underserved communities, a major minority health care issue.

"If you look at the composition of the population in the U.S., and you look at the number of providers of dental care, there is such a disparity,” says Lacy. “It’s a Texas issue, but it’s also a national issue. It’s something every dental school is trying to address. We’re trying to bridge that gap.”